Coming into the 2003 season, the Mariners' payroll ranked seventh in Major League Baseball behind high-rollers like the Red Sox, Yankees and Rangers. Still, the M's have been able to embrace the first place spot as well as the best record in baseball. All this despite being in a division with the defending World Champion Anaheim Angels, a pesky Oakland team run by a general manager more calculating than the equities exchange, and a Texas team that boasts the fifth-highest payroll in the game.
So in this baseball market of high-priced players and gargantuan bankrolls, how have the Mariners been able to succeed day in and day out? By formulating a rarely-seen chemistry among its players, depending on veteran leadership and players that know their roles.
As the last place Texas Rangers are already finding out with quarter of a billion dollar man, Alex Rodriguez, one man cannot make the difference. They are not alone. The Diamondbacks and the Reds are also feeling the strain of their valued commodities.
Despite helping the Diamondbacks to a world championship in 2001, Randy Johnson suffered a knee injury earlier this season that will keep him sidelined until the latter part of July. Before going on the disabled list, the 39-year-old former future Cooperstown inductee was 1-2 with an uncharacteristic 6.94 ERA. The D'backs currently stand six games back of the first-place Giants in the National League West, four back of Los Angeles.
In Cincinnati, the suddenly injury prone Ken Griffey Jr. is turning out to become a larger liability than Reds' management could have ever anticipated. After missing almost all of last year due to an injury Griffey returned to the Reds' lineup this year only to make it on the field a total of 35 times (match that with a 10 million dollar salary). His performances in the field and at the plate have been lukewarm due to nagging injuries and other inconsistencies. The Reds are currently in fourth place in the N.L. Central and desperately looking to unload Junior Griffey and his hefty salary for some young arms.
After losing the three big names – Rodriguez, Johnson and Griffey – in past seasons, the Mariners have only gotten stronger with a veteran lineup paving the way. They have combined their talent at the plate (the team is batting .278 with 360 RBI's and a .430 slugging percentage) with their talent on the field (pitchers are 49-25 with a 3.44 ERA and fielders have made only 27 errors and have a .844 fielding average). These contributions day in and day out have kept the M's divisional rivals at bay.
At this rate the Mariners may not only become one of the last teams to match their talent as worth their payroll but they could become one of the first teams to equally juxtapose economy and talent under a more modest payroll (compare the Mariners $88 million payroll to the Yankees $150 million).
Using the Mariners' model, baseball owners may soon start to alleviate their financial problems by resorting to a more sophomoric rule of "quality over quantity." If this is true, Seattle could one day be known as a revolutionary in the baseball market, especially if they win the World Series in 2003.
Jonathan is a contributing writer for InsidethePark.com. He can be reached at JASalois@aol.com.